Life Is the Greatest Teacher: Eye-Opening Things I Learned This Year

We're unwrapping all the morsels and nuggets of knowledge 2023 dropped into our laps this year.

Published December 20, 2023

From challenges to triumphs, the 365 pages of 2023 created one epic yearbook and how-to-be-human-succesfully-manual. Each season is a lengthy chapter, but still a tapestry of experience that left us a little smarter, a little braver, and a little readier for whatever 2024 might throw this way.

So, take these glimmers and moments as a map for your compass this coming year. These are some of the most important things life taught me this year. 

It's Okay to Ask for Help

As someone who charges along with their head down and just keeps going, taking step after step, hoping for the best, and getting extra muddy along the way, I've learned that picking my head up from what's in front of me and glancing around, I can ask for help. I don't need to find myself knee-deep in mud, trudging along, all on my own. 

You Can Be Honest About How You Are

People are usually more than happy to meet you where you are. If you need more time, if you honestly want to cancel because of a long week, or if you're responding late because life is a whirlwind and you're three to four business days behind in your personal life, they'll often be understanding. 

It can be intimidating to admit where you are, especially when the world is always presenting the best of everything, but a little honesty goes a long way. 

We All Speak a Different Language

Just because someone doesn't love you the way you want or someone isn't grieving the way you'd expect, doesn't mean they don't love you with every cell in their body or that they're not absolutely gutted about their loss. We're all human, but each of our brains and hearts speaks a different language. 

Ditching Your Phone Makes a Big Difference

Sometimes we get lost in our phones: every ding, every vibrate, and every phantom buzz draws our attention from where we are and into the digital world. But there's so much more to the world around us. Yes, you should definitely put your e-reader down now and again to soak up the smell of a good book the way the universe intended us to. 

Helpful Hack

Remember: you don't need to reply right away, either. Once upon a time, we left the house and all anyone could do was leave a voicemail and wait. Don't leave them hanging, but do get back to them within a day or two. Far quicker if the timing is important, but if it can wait, let it. 

No Is a Complete Sentence

No. That's a full sentence and a solid boundary. No. But if you, like me, always need to elaborate, then a "no, thank you" or "no, not this time" or "no, that's not a good day for me" or "no, I'm all set" will also suffice.

Sometimes those around us don't respect that no is a full and complete sentence. Just remember that when someone says "no" to you, you respect that full and complete sentence in return. 

Changing Your Plans Isn't Giving Up

That book you were excited for isn't suddenly vibing with you? The habit you were determined to stick with the entire month suddenly isn't as important? The TV series you love falling flat?

You can stop, you can walk away, you can try again later. Just because you've moved that book from your TBR stack to the DNF shelf doesn't mean you'll never finish it, it just means that right now, it isn't working.

And as for that habit of remembering to journal every single day — that actually ends up making you grumpy because you don't remember until bedtime and by then you're too tired so you write about what you ate for dinner and that cool bug you saw, you can pivot to what you do want. Journal once a week, twice a week, on Wednesdays.

Need to Know

Learning to pivot isn't quitting; you learned what you do or don't need, so put that knowledge to use. You don't need to wait until tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year. 

Mental Health Is Physical Health

For several years my thyroid and I were at war; it didn't want to be a team player, and until I got an appointment with an endocrinologist, it was just me and my doctor throwing things at my body, hoping something would be a temporary fix. 

Then my world changed: my father was given a terminal cancer diagnosis. At my next appointment with my doctor, I told her where I was: I was anxious, I couldn't sleep, I was breaking out in hives, I was having panic attacks. She paused, and said, "How do you feel about Prozac?" When I didn't respond right away, she told me, "We can't treat your body without treating your mind too. And if your mind isn't doing great, it certainly can't look after your body." 

Whatever the reason for going through the wringer, taking care of yourself is important. Make it the number one priority. You have to put your oxygen mask on before helping others. 

80/20 Can Be Better than 100

Just like pivoting isn't quitting, aiming for 80% of the time with 20% grace is a lot better than being disappointed if you don't hit 100%. Giving yourself the same grace, love, and the forgiveness you so readily give to others is important. Cliche? A little bit.

But if you wouldn't be hard on a friend for not hitting her step goal every single day that month, don't be hard on yourself either. Your new rule of thumb: if wouldn't say it to your friend, you can't say it to yourself. 

The Two-Minute Rule Helps

I am a disciple in the house of Gretchen Rubin, and though I go in waves of how much I read and listen to her books and podcasts, this past year was a year of Gretchen. The rule is, if you can take care of it in two minutes, just take care of it right then and there. Especially if it's something you don't want to do.

Swallowing the frog once a day is a lot easier than swallowing a lot of frogs some Saturday when you'd rather be lounging around. 

Be Kind, Be Patient, Be Quiet

You never know at all what someone is going through. Even if you're by their side for the entire ride, just because you're in the same storm doesn't mean you're in the same boat. And I learned a lot about my own judgments this year. 

The day my dad would ultimately pass, I was at the pharmacy at 7:50 a.m. that morning (even though it didn't open until 8) so that we could get him a prescription ASAP. Normally, I absolutely judge those people who are waiting like that, but it was an eye-opener for me in so many ways. Did I have any reason to judge those people? No, but I sure did. Now I take the time to ask, "Why am I being harsh here? Can I be kinder instead? More patient?" and if not, I tell my mind to be quiet. 

Knowing Your Tells Is Important

It's important to know yourself, like when your throat tickles a certain way you know it means it's allergies and not a cold. But it's also incredibly important to know what your mental health tells are. For me, the less I'm reading the more I know I'm struggling. When I can only rewatch movies or TV shows and not watch anything new, struggling. Get anxious about going to the grocery store because I'm irrationally scared I'll forget something even though I only live ten minutes away? I'm soon to be struggling.

It's just as important to know when you're doing well. When I'm cooking more, I know things are getting better. You don't need to keep track of all your days, but if you can find signs of when things are starting to go downhill, you can slow things down and get a grasp on the situation. 

You Don't Need to Be Everyone's Cup of Tea

You're not for everyone, and that's fine. Not everyone is for you, either. But you can accept them as they are. Some people prefer coffee, some people prefer water, and others prefer whiskey. What someone does or doesn't like before you come along doesn't change how good of a cup of tea you are already. 

A Lesson in Being Human

Everyone you meet is navigating this life for the first time and none of us are given a manual. We're all learning different things at the same time, so even though we're all working through the book of life, there's a slim chance we're all on the same page or in the same chapter.

Oh, and our books won't even be the same. We're all just walking each other home at the end of the day. So take what you learned and take it to heart; you never know when that lesson will be a beacon in your life. 

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Life Is the Greatest Teacher: Eye-Opening Things I Learned This Year